Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Conservation Committee Meeting
May 23, 2007Commission Hearing Room
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744
BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 23rd day of May, 2007, there came to be heard matters under the regulatory authority of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in the Commission Hearing Room of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex, to wit:
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION:
- Philip Montgomery, Dallas, Texas, Committee Chair (Absent)
- Joseph B.C. Fitzsimons, San Antonio, Texas, Chairman
- Mark E. Bivins, Amarillo, Texas
- J. Robert Brown, El Paso, Texas
- Peter M. Holt, San Antonio, Texas
- John D. Parker, Lufkin, Texas
- Donato D. Ramos, Laredo, Texas, Vice Chairman
- T. Dan Friedkin, Houston, Texas
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT:
- Robert L. Cook, Executive Director, and other personnel of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The Conservation Committee first order of business is the approval of the prior minutes. I will entertain a motion.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So moved.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Second.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Moved by Friedkin, seconded by Brown. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: All opposed, same sign?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Thank you very much. The Committee Item Number 1, Land and Water Plan update, Mr. Cook.
MR. COOK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Dr. McKinney and his staff and I have had some interesting discussions over the last few months and exchange of correspondence with the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration Agency, known as MARAD, regarding hull cleaning of ships in Texas waters. To just summarize it, ships from all around the nation, one of the destinations for them when they are to be scrapped is the shipyards in Texas, primarily I believe the Brownsville shipyard is one of the primary destinations for those ships.
We have been concerned about potential invasive species issues if ships are brought into Texas waters without proper hull cleaning prior to entering the Gulf of Mexico. Just to cut to the chase, we got into one where there were ships coming from California, for example, that the California rules and regulations would not allow them to clean those hulls in California so they were just going to send them to Texas to be cleaned in Texas. We got into a big discussion with them. Doc stepped right in with it and we took a pretty good stand with them, and yet, at the same time, recognizing that it is a big industry. It is a huge business. We thought we had a deal worked out where they would clean them in the Panama Canal and we went through a whole series of discussions with them on that.
MARAD has agreed to continue to talk with us concerning the movement of these decommissioned ships for recycling, but at the present time they have stopped all movement until alternative solutions to the concerns have been discussed and hopefully agreed upon. It's a big issue and it's one that we want to deal with very carefully. Quite frankly, it's one I believe that Texas is in the lead on and that I hope we will get something positive done for everyone involved.
Another item, in 2005, Coastal Fisheries launched a program designed to recruit experienced anglers to assist TPWD in collecting brood stock for our hatchery programs. This program has helped TPWD avoid inbreeding in the Hatchery Breeding Program. Tournaments around the state have been organized. Fish collected from these tournaments will be used to produce fingerlings which will be returned to the same bay system from which the brood fish originated. The Department, as I believe all of you know, collaborated with a Professional Angler Association, Toyota, and a number of other commercial entities to hold the first ever Professional Angler Tournament on Lake Fork, one of the country's finest bass fisheries. More than 27,000 folks attended the tournament and the Department received a donation of $250,000 for Conservation Education and support of Inland Fisheries.
Finally, the 52nd Texas Game Warden Academy graduated on May 18th. We had the ceremony down at the Capitol. We had a great turnout. I think the room holds like 400 and I believe that it was within ninety-five percent of being packed full. Our academy class was composed of 24 cadets, of which two were from the nation of Mexico, that attended and paid their way through our academy. We had a great relationship there and one that we think might grow. So we've got a really good bunch of young folks out of the academy, into the field, and providing services to the people of Texas. Thank you, sir.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Thank you, Mr. Cook. Item Number 2 is Private Lands Advisory Board report, Linda Campbell and Steve Lewis.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Scott, can we get another chair? I think we're going to have Dr. Eikenhorst join us.
MS. CAMPBELL: Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. My name is Linda Campbell and I'm the Program Director for the Private Lands and Public Hunting Program. Here with me is Steve Lewis, to my right.
MR. LEWIS: Good morning.
MS. CAMPBELL: He is the Chairman of the Private Lands Advisory Board. Also, Dr. Bill Eikenhorst, who is a member of the board. Today, we'd like to brief you on the Board's recommendations to the Commission and TPWD concerning the technical assistance to landowners and specifically with regards to the Managed Lands Program.
First, I would like to provide you information on the Private Lands Advisory Board and the charge that Chairman Fitzsimons asked them to look at. As a reminder to you, the Board, the objective is to advise Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on matters pertaining to wildlife programs, management, and research on private lands. As you can see there, there's the list of the current members of the Board. Chairman Fitzsimons' charge to the Board was to develop guidance on how to keep the Managed Lands Program credible and effective and to develop recommendations concerning Parks and Wildlife's ability to provide a high level of technical assistance to landowners. The charge was delivered to the Board in August 2006.
I would like to now provide you a little bit of background information that was provided to the Board to assist them in developing their recommendations. First, several permits are offered by the Department that require the landowner to have a TPWD-approved Wildlife Management Plan. The number of permits issued during the 2006 permit year is as follows here on the slide, about 160,000, nearly 161,000 on ten million acres for the Managed Lands Deer Program, 75 TTT permits, and the Antlerless/Spike Deer Control permits at 25.
The Parks and Wildlife 2005 Land and Water Resources Conservation and Recreation Plan, Goal 3.4, states, "Increase acres under Wildlife Management Plan to 20 million acres by 2008." Currently, there are 5,205 Department-approved Wildlife Management Plans covering over 19.3 million acres in Texas. About half of all wildlife management plans, developed with Parks and Wildlife assistance are associated with the Managed Lands Deer Permit Program.
Technical Guidance Biologists are the ones primarily responsible for providing technical assistance to landowners by recommending management practices to assist the landowners in meeting their wildlife management goals. Currently, there are ten Technical Guidance Biologists and ten Private Lands Biologists in the field, working in Texas. The difference, generally Private Lands Biologists are younger with less time in service compared with Technical Guidance Biologists. In-house surveys show these biologists average about eighty percent or more of their time providing technical assistance to landowners. In addition to the Technical Guidance and Private Lands Biologists, all Regulatory Biologists and technicians also provide significant technical guidance assistance to landowners. In 2005, thirty-nine percent of all Wildlife Division staff time was spent on providing information and technical assistance to landowners.
The Board considered the following challenges for the Department as they prepared their recommendations. First, the Department will meet or exceed its goal of 20 million acres under management plan by 2008. The inclusion of the Managed Land Deer Program for Mule Deer is expected to increase the demand for MLDPs in West Texas. Increasing the number of new landowners, and increasing the number of new landowners purchasing land for recreational purposes, is growing dramatically and would be expected to increase the services requested for the Managed Lands programs.
Landowners enjoy the benefits of these programs and are certainly using them. The Department needs to be ready for additional demands and deliberate the technical guidance associated with these Managed Lands programs. Finally, TPWD needs enough boots on the ground to meet the growing demand to keep the Managed Lands programs credible and effective.
Now, I'd like to turn it over to Steve Lewis to present the Board's recommendations.
MR. LEWIS: Thank you, Linda. Thank you, Joseph. It's been a pleasure to serve as Chairman of the Private Lands Advisory Board. We have an active board. Attendance was good. Interest was good. We've met several times in the last year and a half. It's been our pleasure to serve and I appreciate it.
Commissioner Holt knows better to go to Utah or Phoenix without Tim Duncan and I've decided I'm not coming to Austin without Bill Eikenhorst. Bill has given me an enormous ‑‑ he's like my right arm in this committee. He's gone above and beyond my wildest expectation. He thinks about natural resources 24 hours a day. So I asked him to join me today and I greatly appreciate his extra effort in helping me. Thank you.
PLAB's recommendations, the first one is on the current slide. PLAB recommends against charging a fee for Managed Land programs. This was the first order of business. Lively discussion was had regarding this issue, but at the end of the day, due to the variability of the appropriation process, TPWD cannot assure landowners that fees associated with participation in the Managed Land program would be used to provide additional services for participants. The only entity that can dedicate those funds is the Legislature. The more I learned, the more I know that TPWD just cannot guarantee that. The Department is not in a position to guarantee landowners that their fee would be applied back into the Managed Lands program. Given the recent problems with Fund 9, PLAB was not comfortable with this requirement of a fee and that was nearly unanimous.
The second recommendation, and basically our charge from Chairman Fitzsimons, this program is growing. Twenty million by '08, you're going to make it. I think you're going to surpass it. West Texas is going to blow past 20 million acres. So there's a demand for it. How do you keep it credible? How do you prove that it's for real and it works? PLAB recommends that well-defined benchmarks measured ‑‑ and I'm going use the word "measured" frequently ‑‑ measured and reported annually are necessary to ensure the credibility of Managed Lands program.
The following annual, here again, measurements are recommended. If we go to benchmarks for Managed Lands participants, review of landowners' stated goals and planned actions as identified in their Wildlife Management Plan. Remember WMPs are designed to achieve the landowners' goals. That's who's important in this game. The percent or extent of the planned action achieved for habitat improvement, including fire, brush management, planned grazing, or whatever management tool they're using, let's figure out how far that tool went in obtaining their goals, the reason why it was achieved or not.
Again, measure, percent of recommendation of harvest achieved, landowner self-assessment of progress toward their goals ‑‑ and this is interesting ‑‑ including efforts to provide hunting opportunity to youth, underserved populations, and Education Outreach community programs. PLAB feels that you're cooperators in the Managed Land area are going to be the real stars of this extracurricular effort if you will, about who's holding field days, who's providing youth hunting, who's going above and beyond, who's going outside of their fences to provide something valuable for Texas recreation, conservation, outreach, et cetera. Again, if you'll measure what's going on in the ranch and provide some self-assessment by the landowners to toot their own horn, if you will, about their activities ‑‑ I think it's important ‑‑ and then, finally TPWD Biologists' assessment of the good faith efforts by landowners to implement and maintain management practices toward achievement of the stated goals.
Another recommendation, benchmarks for Managed Land participants, one of the goals of this process is to use the information as a proactive tool to document habitat improvement as well as economic and societal benefits associated with better land management. Properly designated and using this process will provide TPWD with an ongoing evaluation that documents the landowners' habitat management efforts, recognize habitat improvement through various quantifiable measurement practices, and recognizes the extra efforts of the permit holders. PLAB believes you will find tremendous extra effort by these permit holders.
An additional recommendation is to develop an integrated database to gather and manage data related to Managed Land programs and other activities of the Wildlife Division; use this database to streamline landowner assistance and allow field program and management staff instant access to information needed to evaluate and document the benefits of the Managed Land program; allow selected access for landowner and staff at various levels to provide information for decision making while maintaining privacy for cooperating landowners. PLAB believes that an integrated data management system of this type is a good investment for TPWD and is long overdue.
As a sidebar, this TG effort is a great deal of getting along with the landowners and coffee table talk, if you will. To me, being able to, on the way out of that ranch, pull under a live oak tree and enter into a computer what happened that day, store it and share it with those who need to know, is just an awful lot better system than going to a yellow pad, putting it in one department who may not get it in another. Let's get on the same page. We saw a really interesting, fascinating program called TWINS presented by Dr. Lou. PLAB, our jaws were just open when we saw that.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Steve, explain the acronym and what exactly is TWINS.
MR. LEWIS: TWINS is an acronym for Texas Wildlife Information Systems. It was one of your consultant's or programmer's first attempt to create a program to bring all this data together and share it between the various department members. It was fascinating, tremendous. I understand there's some statewide mandates to consolidate IT capabilities, wherein all statewide agencies use a coordinated effort. I'm not sure that ‑‑ if that can happen, that's great, but it seems to me, you all were way down the road with what I saw in Dr. Lou's efforts.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right. So if I understand, we've got to find a way to make TWINS survive this integration?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
MR. LEWIS: It was an amazing presentation. I enjoyed it very much.
The next slide, regarding recruitment training and career advancement, I'm going to let Dr. Bill Eikenhorst discuss this.
DR. EIKENHORST: Thanks, Steve. Good morning, Chairman Fitzsimons, Commissioners, Chairman Bivins. I'm honored to be here. I think I'm Steve's right-hand man on changing the slide deal. I'm Dr. Bill Eikenhorst, Private Lands Advisory Board member, for the record. Steve talked about the high-tech parts of this and what I'm going to talk about is the high-touch parts of it because people really drive this, as you know.
We talked about boots on the ground. No question that without boots on the ground, this ability to measure, this ability to transfer this information doesn't happen. Really I translate boots on the ground to conservation and wildlife management action on the ground. The quantity of boots is important. The quality and effectiveness of those boots is imperative.
Great tech guides people are practitioners. I'm a veterinarian and practitioning is an experience. There's an art and a science and it's a compromise frequently between art and science. The experience allows you to be able to take the art that you gain over time through experience and the science and combine them in a superlative way to create that information transfer that's imperative for this to happen. To magnify the total Wildlife Management and Conservation action of all the tech guidance people, what we're talking about is creating additional positions to provide assistance to landowners where the demand is the greatest, not necessarily by region, or reporting unit, or by some compartment with lines on a map, but by demand because it is not exactly spread over the state evenly.
Obviously, to continue to include landowner assistance as a job duty for all biologists and technicians, and combining the high tech ability to maximize those practitioner's ability, whatever level they are is imperative, but we're also recommending the creation or the facilitation of maybe a new level of a tech guidance leader role. If we're going to, I think it's imperative that we emphasize tech guidance to be able to achieve the charge. To do that, having those people staying in the field that are best in the field, and being able to mentor, and guide, and train, and help create that platform for the new tech guidance people at whatever level they are, we feel is imperative.
That would allow ‑‑ a rising tide floats all ships ‑‑ and that would allow all tech guides with limited resources, limited FTEs, and all the things that you face ‑‑ you all have to figure out how to do that, but that was our unanimous recommendation. I'll be available to answer any questions if I didn't do a good job of explaining that to Steve or Linda.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I've got one question. Our tech guidance biologists, has that number increased at all in the last few years? In other words, now that we have 20 million acres under WMPs, has that number changed?
MS. CAMPBELL: Commissioner, I believe the last time it was increased was the year 2000. That's when the Private Lands Biologists came on, but the TG's have held the same at ten for quite some time.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Question. You know, with West Texas coming online and as that continues to grow, first of all, how many permits have been issued for the West Texas region? What is, over the next five years for example, what is the projected acreage that we're going to be adding?
MS. CAMPBELL: I would like ‑‑ is Mitch Lockwood here?
MR. BERGER: For the record, I'm Mike Berger, Director of the Wildlife Division. Through last year, the new Mule Deer Managed Land Program had about just under three million acres enrolled and we would anticipate over the next years at least another million and a half. Most of that's in the Trans-Pecos. A little bit in the Panhandle, but most is in the Trans-Pecos. I can't tell you right offhand the number of ranches that is, but it's about three million acres.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: It's significant additional acreage coming online then?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: It's almost a million acres a year since we passed the reg.
MR. BERGER: Right.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We'll be close to five million at five years. Let's let them run through their conclusions and all that, and then I think we'll have a broad discussion over all these issues and their conclusions.
MR. LEWIS: Okay. The conclusions are that the Managed Land program has been an unqualified success and has had a major positive impact on the white-tailed deer and other wildlife habitat. The number of field biologists needs to be increased, preferably through all new hires, but also through reassignment of existing TPWD personnel during key months when the workload is greatest.
PLAB recommends that TPWD utilize an integrated data management system to facilitate information flow between field biologists and the landowners. TPWD should designate staff to gather and maintain data on the benefits of Managed Land programs, including not only the benefits of effective habitat and game management, but also on the economic value to rural communities resulting from increased recreational opportunity.
Working effectively with landowners requires a certain skill set based in understanding and motivating people. Thus, it is critical that TPWD retain and develop those individuals with exceptional skills in this area. A career ladder that encourages biologists with exceptional TG skills to remain in the field is recommended.
TPWD should continue to communicate that the Managed Land programs are habitat-based incentive programs benefitting all species of wildlife, both game and
nongame species, in all regions of the State of Texas. Those are our recommendations, Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Steve and Bill, I want to thank you. Of course, Linda, you had to direct all this effort, but I want to thank you all for your hard work. You've spent a lot of time on it. I met with you once or twice and I think you realized that there was a lot to the charge, and you didn't run from it. You didn't take the easy way out. I appreciate you staying focused on the charges. It's easy in this business to go down some rabbit trails and you didn't do that.
Let me ask you a couple of questions. On the final recommendation ‑‑
MR. LEWIS: Yes, sir?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: ‑‑ where do we go with that? There are a lot of nice, broad terms there, habitat, all species, the whole state. I take away from this fifty percent of the real programs are tied to the Managed Lands Deer Permit. We still seem to be tied to single species management in some respect, even though we say nice words about game and nongame, we're still talking about deer. So how do we make that a reality to get to multi-species?
MR. LEWIS: Bill, would you like to comment on that?
DR. EIKENHORST: Well, obviously, I mean, it's kind of Wildlife Management 101 that that's the vortex that you're in. You know, if you're focusing management on an individual species, which is how this program started, obviously needing to know the population of the deer, there's going to be that focus. I think it's the challenge that we just have to try to figure that out and it probably requires more discussion amongst the smart folks that sit around tables like this to get that bridge, that transformation, of conversion of how does this really effect that.
I think to some extent, Chairman Fitzsimons, the answer is in there, in the measurement. I think as we begin to create those flexible measurement tools, social, economic, biological, and ecological measurements, we'll begin to see and begin to document some of those impacts that go beyond a single species. I don't know that I have a profound single answer, but I think it's attainable.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: It seems to me that if we're really going to get to the world of habitat management, we're going to have to look at a more holistic model of multiple species management, of managing the habitat as a whole. It's not just drawing people here because they're interested in deer.
MR. LEWIS: There's no reason why somebody interested in turtles, or turkeys, or whatever can't be interested in this.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: It seems to me that as this concept matures, the application to other species will be somewhat self-fulfilling, because the techniques that you're utilizing for a particular species more than likely will benefit others as well. So I think you're going to see increased numbers in not necessarily the specified species that the plan is defined under. The holistic approach will be somewhat self-fulfilling. I don't know that we'll be able to necessarily measure it with any accuracy, but I think that you're going to see an overall improvement in habitat which will therefore increase these other species.
I also have another question. The background page states that about half of all the WMPs developed are done so with TPWD assistance. Who does the other half?
MS. CAMPBELL: Well, actually, the intent of that was about half of all wildlife management plans were as a result of the Managed Lands programs.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Okay.
MS. CAMPBELL: In other words, that's what I meant to say there.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Well, I was just interested to know if there were other entities out there that were participating in this on an increased level that I wasn't aware of, other than Parks and Wildlife.
MS. CAMPBELL: I do want to add, Mr. Chairman, too, that the Private Lands Advisory Board is meeting today from 1:00 to 3:00 and your question, Chairman Fitzsimons, is number one on their agenda to discuss.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That's right.
MR. LEWIS: Chairman, I think that the drive, the enthusiasm, that all this starts with some landowner's enthusiasm.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right.
MR. LEWIS: I think your question is very interesting in that if I'm enthusiastic about something other than white-tailed deer, why can't I get the juices going and request help on that item. I'm all for that.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And we might need some help here from Mike, Ann Bright ‑‑ you always need your lawyer. These recommendations, what action steps? ‑‑ can we break this down? Maybe I'm asking the staff to break this down into how much of this is management issues for the Executive Director on the issue of allocating resources of people in different times of the year, which I think you make a really good point ‑‑ when the work loads there, you need those folks ‑‑ and how much of it will take Commission action. Break those policy matters down.
Of course, the other issue that you bring up is the first one. You don't recommend a fee because we can't guarantee that the money is going to go where it's intended. I mean, it's a lesson we learned with the Freshwater Fisheries Stamp. I think you're just being brutally frank, but if we could just break those recommendations down as to where we can take action and then what kind of action.
DR. EIKENHORST: Chairman Fitzsimons, if you'll allow me a brief follow-up point on the multi-species. I really think that the high touch, high tech is ‑‑ the ability to share that information across to nongame people within the department will probably enable that self-fulfilling pathway that you described in a superlative way, because now most of that information is trapped, and has to be asked for or sought out individually, where it may become available or not. Certainly, they would then gain access, nongame folks, to those cooperators in a way they may not even know exists now. So I think that's another aspect.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That's an important point because I think we lack a lot of experience in data and sharing of information to build the biological foundation for those multi-species plans. We've got reams of data on deer we've been focused on. Well, I always talk about Claudia Ball. She's done an amazing job out there on the Devil's River and she always asks me, why can't I have a Managed Lands Program for turkey? She knows a lot about the turkey on that Pecan bottom and those tributaries of the Devil's River. You get somebody involved in the program and start sharing that data, and we need to build the database so that we can make responsible decisions on a plan.
DR. EIKENHORST: That is exactly the example of what's the microhabitat of arthropod abundance in those habitats and then begin to come across to LIP and all of the other different aspects of putting that conservation law and management action on the ground.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The beauty, to me, of that is that then the neighbors get interested.
DR. EIKENHORST: Right.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I mean, we're seeing that in West Texas now. Everybody is starting to share information and the neighbors get interested. That's when landscape scale conservation starts to happen.
MR. LEWIS: Commissioner Parker, did you have a question?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Yes. This is a wonderful presentation that I totally agree with, but I would think that, for myself personally, and not personally but speaking for a lot of people beyond landowners, how do you perceive, how does this all relate to an increased user participation beyond private landowners? I directly relate all of this to somewhat of a flat history of our hunting licenses and hunter participation. How does this relate to drawing the metropolitan citizen out to experience the good work that has been done on the private landowners' property? I realize that that might be a tough challenge, but I think it is one that needs to be addressed.
MR. LEWIS: Managed land permits are designed to increase habitat. If there's better habitat to enjoy by those who live in the city, either as a guest or a lease fee or trespass fee, it's increasing the quality of what's out there. It's hard for somebody not connected with land to control habitat unless he has a long-term lease and permission of the landowner. To me, it's just providing better quality habitat to enjoy, either as a guest or as a lessee.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Steve, can I get you guys to address this lands issue and how it survives integration? I may be biting off too much for this discussion, but it sounds like something I'd like the staff to come back and explain to us. What these folks on the ground that are really doing the management are telling us is that they were really impressed by the capability of TWINS. I didn't even know it existed until they brought it to my attention. It seems that it might be threatened by other issues so we need to find a way to make it work.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Can we give some background information on that?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You bet.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: You've got E-mail.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Developed in our own house?
MR. COOK: Yes. When did we start, Mike, 15 years ago?
MR. BERGER: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: It's been awhile.
MR. COOK: Well, it is a very, very complex set of information, the mapping involved, the availability of information that's used is continuing to increase and improve. You know, keeping that information and honoring the privacy of this information, folks, is a real issue that we've got to deal with here. That's one that we cross routinely from the agency's standpoint. The TWINS program, whatever we call it, has been one that has been in development a good while. I think it would be something that you would enjoy seeing and knowing about.
I want to say that I appreciate these guys. I've known these folks a long time, been associated with this Committee a long time, and add just a few words here. Our technical guidance program is over thirty years old; we have had a technical guidance program at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for over 30 years. It's a good program. I know these gentlemen and I submit to you if they looked at almost any of our other programs, whether that is Freshwater Fisheries, Saltwater Fisheries, our data systems, our financial systems, that they would probably walk away with the same kind of recommendations. So it's a matter of allocation of resources.
When I look at technical guidance, people out there, we have made great strides over the last ten or fifteen years in this program, as you know. You go back to the Managed Lands Permit Program, the real word that we heard from day one, that this chairman and previous chairmen and the Commission, was habitat. Now, oftentimes, as we all know, it is white-tailed deer that gets our guy to the door. It is, but in recent years, we are seeing that evolution where maybe it's blackland prairie that that person is interested in. Maybe it's endangered species or species that is on the candidate list ‑‑
VOICE: The lesser prairie chicken.
MR. COOK: ‑‑ for example, the lesser prairie chicken.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: One of the chairman's pets.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The lesser prairie chicken.
MR. COOK: There's much more variety in the people who come to us now and say, I hear you all have got a program that helps landowners work with habitat with different species, songbirds, whatever it is. So we're seeing that shift. And yet, when it comes time to pay the bill, the revenue stream is a single source.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right.
MR. COOK: So from the standpoint of ‑‑ going back to the chairman's question, what can we do? Whose charge does it lay in? To develop a completely different revenue source or an additional revenue source, that would take Commission and Legislative action. That would be a Legislative agenda priority, if we were wanting to, needing to, wishing to develop a completely new revenue stream.
For instance ‑‑ and I hope that everyone here today will be able to come to our Land Steward Awards program tonight, again, a program right out of this committee, right out of this group of folks that we're talking about here. Great program ‑‑ and you will hear that some of those folks are being recognized because, and part of their program involves better quality, better quantity water, better supplementing the aquifer that their land is associated with or the city close by. That's part of the program now. So there's other issues that are bringing these folks to the table.
Currently, the way we're set up, we can allocate the revenue stream that we have differently. As you heard Ms. Fields report, right now, it's a relatively stable revenue stream. We go through very, very careful and serious considerations in looking at all of our programs, not just within the Wildlife Division but between all of the Fund 9 divisions, in allocating those resources. I think we've got great programs in all of them. I think you all would agree with that. To generate additional revenue in that stream simply requires an increase in fees, and I say simply rather casually. That's not a simple process, as you know, but the people participating in that are the same people who hunt and fish.
So it is a complex issue. It is one that when we start looking at salaries of this group compared to salaries of that group, whether they be fisheries' biologists or accountants or game wardens, or whoever they may be, that we have to look at those responsibilities, performance levels, success of the program, and try to balance within the agency those kinds of issues. So as far as should we pay more? Absolutely, all of them deserve it; they've done a great job. Can we allocate more resources in this directions? Probably, we've done some things, for instance in our data collection system just within the Wildlife Division, that may allow us to continue to shift some resources and time and people this way. I kind of almost giggle when Doc and Steve were talking about, to keep these guys in the field. You can't get these guys out of the field.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That's the other problem.
MR. COOK: That's because they love it and they do a good job and that's true again in all of these resource divisions. We don't have much trouble keeping these guys in the field. Our tenure, our longevity in these groups of people is excellent. I mean, we don't have people turnover in this group. We just don't have it.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, I think the Commission would like to see staff pull together what it would take to implement these recommendations and then decide if it's feasible or even in our power to do it.
MR. COOK: Will do.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thanks for all you're doing and thanks especially for what we'll see tonight. I know it's a lot of work to pull together Lone Star Land Steward Award and it's a great program.
MR. LEWIS: Thank you. I appreciate serving.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Steve, thank you.
DR. EIKENHORST: Thank you, too.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Thank you very much. Item Number 3, Lease Exchange with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Cameron, Hidalgo, and Starr Counties, and Mr. Ted Hollingsworth is going to present that today.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, good morning. My name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. This is an item that you're seeing for the third time regarding rearranging some of our pieces of property that comprise the Las Palomos Wildlife Management Unit in the Lower Valley.
After several years of discussions with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we've determined that some of those sites would be better managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, they were acquired originally with White Wing money at a time when we felt that white wing dove needed some habitat assistance in Texas. As we all know, the White Wing has done very well. The cost of managing those small tracts of land for White Wing habitat now probably exceeds the biological value. Again, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is right there with the Lower Rio Grande Valley Refuge and can manage those tracts. In exchange, we would get a management agreement on tracts adjacent to two of the World Birding Centers.
You've seen these maps before. The units in red would go to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The two units in yellow would come to Texas Parks and Wildlife. This would all occur under 50-year management agreements. The proposal has been published locally. We've solicited public comment. I've gotten one E-mail. We had no one show up for the local hearing. Our assumption is that there is not a lot of opposition to this locally. If you are in agreement, this is the recommendation you will see tomorrow to complete that transaction.
Are there any questions?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Very well. Thank you very much. If there are no further questions or discussion, I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action. Thank you.
Committee Item Number 4, Land Sale, Travis County, Austin Game Warden Academy Property, and, Ted, you're up again.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Commissioners, my name is Ted Hollingsworth with the Land Conservation Program. This item you are also seeing for the third time. It involves the sale of 4.2 acres that we own on 50th Street in Austin. It is the location of the Austin Game Warden Academy. As you know, we are in the process of relocating the academy to a site in Hamilton County, which will give us more elbow room and better facilities for training Game Wardens.
Per your authorization in the April meeting, the property has been listed with a broker by the General Land Office. We have an offer in hand that we believe is in the best interest of the Department to proceed with. Public hearings have been conducted on this site as well. We have requested authority to spend all funds realized from the sale on the facility in Hamilton County. Tomorrow, you will see the following motion allowing the Executive Director to proceed with finalizing that contract and closing on that deal. If this particular transaction should fall through for whatever reason, we have a couple of other proposals in the wings that are also very solid, very good proposals, and we'd advise are in the best interest of the agency to proceed with.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Bob, I have a question on our ability to spend the total amount of the proceeds. Has that been resolved?
MR. COOK: Yes, we have Legislative authority that whatever proceeds we get from this sale to transfer to and use at the Hamilton County facility.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: There are no appraisal limitations or anything like that?
MR. COOK: No.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Okay. All right. Any other discussion on this issue?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Hearing none, I will place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action. Item Number 5, Transfer of Property in Wood County, the Governor Hogg Shrine State Historic Site, again, Ted.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: My name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. This is the second reading of this item. The Governor Hogg Shrine State Historic Site was transferred ‑‑ the land was actually transferred to the City of Quitman several years ago.
Two buildings on the site, which have some minor historic significance, were retained by this agency because the City of Quitman was not in a position to maintain those. The local heritage society has requested that we transfer those to them for repair and opening back up to the public. The City of Quitman is in favor of us doing so. To do so is fully consistent with our Land and Water Resource Conservation and Recreation Plan. We have conducted public hearings and solicited public comment.
Our recommendation to you is that we proceed with that transfer. Accordingly, this is the action item you will see tomorrow. I'd be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Any comments or questions regarding Item Number 5?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: If there are none, I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action. Thank you, Ted.
Item Number 6, Easement Donation, Van Zandt County Purtis Creek State Park, Mr. Corky Kuhlmann.
MR. KUHLMANN: Good morning. For the record, my name is Corky Kuhlmann. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. This involves a road easement donation at Purtis Creek State Park. This easement will give us access to the northwest corner of the park. We currently are using this roadway by handshake agreement. The adjacent landowner is going to sell the property and before he does, he is willing to donate a permanent recorded easement.
They're planning a trail system to go completely around the lake. It will help with that trail system for evacuation, emergency needs, whatever. This is a recommendation you'll see tomorrow for that donation.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Any discussion of this item?
How far is this from Lake Cook?
MR. KUHLMANN: Purtis Creek is probably about, I guess, 60 minutes, an hour drive.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I was just curious. If there is no further discussion, I will place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.
Committee Item Number 7, Land Donation, Gonzales County, Palmetto State Park, Permission to Begin the Public Notice and Input Process, Mr. Kuhlmann.
MR. KUHLMANN: Again, Corky Kuhlmann, Land Conservation Program. This item represents a donation at Palmetto State Park. It's a 1.35-acre donation. The tract that's going to be donated is adjacent to the park. If you see the red tract, that's the donation tract. The smaller rectangle to the north, northeast is the park's superintendent's house, the tract that he currently resides on. This is a picture of the area that is to be donated and the landowner is going to reserve a life estate after the donation. With your approval, we'll publish public notice and anticipate Commission action at the August meeting. Are there any questions?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Any comments or questions on Item Number 7?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Hearing none, I will ask that you begin the public notice and input process.
On the next item, is our timing such that we can ‑‑
MR. COOK: I would suggest that we recess this committee and take up the next committee ‑‑
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Very well.
MR. COOK: ‑‑ and proceed until we go to lunch. We'll go into Executive Session at lunch.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Very well. I will then pass the gavel to Chairman Fitzsimons.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you.
(Whereupon, at 10:29 a.m., the meeting was adjourned, to reconvene this same day, Wednesday, May 23, 2007, at a later time.)
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: We would like to, at this time, reconvene the regular session of the Conservation Committee. If there is no objection, I'll ask staff to begin the public notice and input process regarding the acquisition of a 62-foot-by-92-foot tract of land at the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area in Jefferson County; the exchange of a driveway permit for a conservation easement on Park Road 4 connecting Longhorn Cavern and Inks Lake State Parks in Burnet County; and a proposed 42-inch diameter pipeline across more than 14 miles of the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area in Jefferson County.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right, great.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Is there any other business to be brought before the Committee, Mr. Cook?
MR. COOK: No, sir.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Very well. I will then turn the gavel over to Regulations Chairman Friedkin.
(Whereupon, at 2:16 p.m., the meeting was adjourned.)
MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, Conservation Committee
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
DATE: May 23, 2007
I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 38, inclusive, are the true, accurate, and complete transcript prepared from the verbal recording made by electronic recording by Penny Bynum before the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.
On the Record Reporting, Inc.
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas 78731